OR­GANIC UR­BAN­ISM

Pasatiempo - - RANDOM ACTS - Michael Abatemarco

For the third in­car­na­tion of Zane Bennett’s Un­der 35 ex­hi­bi­tion se­ries, the fo­cus is nar­rowed from past shows to in­clude works by only three gallery artists, pro­vid­ing eas­ier op­por­tu­ni­ties to draw com­par­isons among them. The cor­re­spon­dences are vis­ual as well as the­matic. Brook­lyn-based Ni­cola López and Jack War­ren and Santa Fe-based Nouel Riel cre­ate con­cep­tual rather than lit­eral rep­re­sen­ta­tions of land­scapes. López’s works are pos­si­bly the most ex­plic­itly representational in the ex­hi­bi­tion. Her pieces in­clude vis­ual el­e­ments evoca­tive of ur­ban to­pog­ra­phy, such as col­umns, gird­ers, and py­lons, but they are not rep­re­sen­ta­tions of struc­tures in geo­graphic lo­cales. Rather, they are imag­i­na­tive vis­ual re­sponses to the ex­pe­ri­ence of living in built en­vi­ron­ments. For those who grew up in a place where na­ture is just a few steps out­side the door (López was raised in Santa Fe), the ex­pe­ri­ence of living in a con­structed en­vi­ron­ment, such as a ma­jor ur­ban cen­ter or in­ner city, might seem daunt­ing or even dam­ag­ing to the spirit and soul. But in this tech­no­log­i­cal age, in which de­vices me­di­ate even the most ba­sic in­ter­ac­tions be­tween peo­ple, most trans­port is by ma­chine, and cli­mate can be con­trolled by the touch of a but­ton, the very idea of na­ture gets re­de­fined.

López’s works on pa­per are sprawl­ing jum­bles rem­i­nis­cent of ci­tyscapes and are in­formed by hu­man­made el­e­ments from the real world, although th­ese com­po­nents are ar­ranged in ab­stract, lin­ear con­fig­u­ra­tions. Her works are not a com­men­tary, although some may ap­pear, at first glance, to rep­re­sent bro­ken, dystopian worlds — par­tic­u­larly her Mon­u­ment VI, a 10-color litho­graph done at Tamarind In­sti­tute in 2009 that de­picts the ru­ins of a high­way overpass. Its columnar struc­tures re­call mon­u­ments of the past, such as Greek and Ro­man ru­ins, as much as those of the present, in this sense im­bu­ing them with a cer­tain dig­nity. Her In­fra­struc­ture, an­other litho­graph, con­veys en­thu­si­asm for the aes­thetics of ar­chi­tec­tural con­structs. “In some ways I’m drawn to struc­tures be­cause there’s a del­i­cacy to the lay­ing out of the un­der­ly­ing forms,” she told Pasatiempo.

There’s a con­trast at work in the com­po­si­tions: lines de­lin­eat­ing skele­tal, ar­chi­tec­tural shapes crisscross with more solid, colored beams bent at crazy an­gles. And a darker side to her in­ter­est in struc­tural com­po­nents is hinted at in ti­tles such as Bits of Af­ter­math and Shad­ow­land, both names of se­ries rep­re­sented in the show. The lat­ter sug­gests a place of dreams, a psy­chic land­scape. Her works can be seen as the prod­ucts of an or­ganic or nat­u­ral re­sponse to living in an ur­ban domain. Peo­ple learn to ne­go­ti­ate such worlds and to sur­vive. “I’m re­ally look­ing at the vis­ual land­scape as a record of our hu­man­ity,” López said. “I’m in­ter­ested in look­ing at how th­ese two en­vi­ron­ments, the ur­ban and or­ganic, res­onate with one an­other.”

Sim­i­larly, Nouel Riel’s mixed-me­dia works sug­gest ex­pe­ri­en­tial rather than ac­tual land­scapes. Af­ter Wait­ing has noth­ing overtly representational in it, but the ragged di­vi­sion be­tween the up­per and lower por­tions of the paint­ing, ren­dered in con­trast­ing black and white, sug­gests a cold win­ter sky above the tree­line of a dark for­est. Images from her se­ries Man­u­fac­tured In­ti­macy: For Re­la­tion­ships on the Go are pho­to­graphic scans on hand­made pa­per that have a pain­terly feel. Here, land­scape is in­di­cated through anatom­i­cal close-ups. The fo­cus is soft, like the sands of the desert un­der the semi­dark­ness of a moon­lit sky, a ter­rain in mi­cro­cosm. The scan of a fe­male breast takes on sev­eral vis­ual as­so­ci­a­tions, not the least of which is a moon dur­ing a lu­nar eclipse. There’s an in­ti­mate as­pect to this se­ries: Body parts such as a lover’s cheek or fore­arm evoke the gen­tle feel­ing of a dream in the night. But the se­ries ti­tle strikes an oddly less ro­man­tic tone, per­haps in­di­cat­ing dis­tance be­tween lovers and fad­ing mem­o­ries. Though the scans are in color, the hues are muted. The fea­ture­less blue-gray back­grounds and the pale flesh tones lend the works a fu­ne­real pall, like the oth­er­worldly paint­ings of El Greco.

Jack War­ren’s mixed-me­dia paint­ings are more ges­tu­ral than ei­ther López’s works or Riel’s, although he also in­cor­po­rates fig­u­ra­tive and representational im­agery, al­beit in an ab­stract man­ner. There’s co­he­sion in his odd jumble of forms, where im­per­fect, broad lines sweep and loop through­out the com­po­si­tions in both an­gu­lar and curvi­lin­ear brush­strokes. The fig­u­ra­tive as­pects are of­ten un­re­fined but are ren­dered in enough de­tail to be rec­og­niz­able. As they in­ter­act with non­pic­to­rial forms and pat­terns, such as cir­cles and spi­rals, they be­come not the sub­ject of the paint­ings but mere el­e­ments of a greater whole, their sym­bolic power di­luted or trans­fig­ured to evoke new as­so­ci­a­tions. En­hanc­ing this ef­fect is War­ren’s use of col­lage, made of pages from mag­a­zines and books. Over­lay­ers in­ter­act with un­der­lay­ers in a dy­namic and vi­brantly colored psy­che­delic mix but sug­gest noth­ing spe­cific. Some works, like his Don Juan Pey­ote Party,

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